The Digital Divide in Powhatan County

Amazingly, broadband gaps are still with us



It seems like so, 2005.

But it’s the truth. The Digital Divide still remains in Virginia. It is mostly in rural areas, but it comes as close as Powhatan County.

According to Bacons Rebellion writer John Szczesny, Powhatan residents have been meeting with Verizon to see if service can be spread to them. But both Verizon and Comcast have been avoiding providing service to Powhatan because it is not densely enough populated to make money.

Verizon has turned down grants to get them into more rural and exurban areas.

It is hard for me to grasp this. About 10 years ago, I was writing a story for a national business magazine about the digital.

The divide is also in inner cities, as well as rural sections, then as now.

Here’s what I wrote in October 2005:

“Dianah Neff, Philadelphia’s chief information officer, bristled in frustration when she reviewed the broadband penetration rates for her 135-square-mile city. Broadband, or high-speed Internet, was reaching only 58 percent of the City of Brotherly Love in total, although 90 percent of nearby affluent neighborhoods had been linked.

“The reason? Local telecoms and cable firms, specifically Verizon and Comcast, were setting up broadband networks at their own pace and discretion, she says. They were targeting places where they could bundle separate services and sell them at greater profit margins. Low-income sections and some industrial parks supporting small and middle-sized businesses simply had to wait. “The Digital Divide is very real in Philadelphia,” says Neff.”

What’s the story 10 years later? Philadelphia has gone up to all of 64.1 percent in broadband penetration rates and ranks 23rd out of the 25 top U.S. cities. Big Whoop!

I remember back then interviewing a small businessman man in an inner city neighborhood in the City of Brotherly Love. He badly needed Internet to operate his company but was on a tight budget. The cable firms, he said, insisted on bundling his services to include all kinds of things he didn’t want and could not afford, such as 400-plus channels of entertainment.

Adding salt to the wound is the fact that Comcast is headquartered in Philadelphia.

Let’s hope they, and Powhatan, get some help.

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